The success of a film hinges on multiple factors – from the quality of the script through to how well the finished product is marketed and presented to the target audience. The strategic decisions made at each stage play a significant part in defining the film’s success. CreativeFirst caught up with Vishal Ramchandani to talk about the role of marketing in each of these stages and his experience with one of the most innovative production houses in the country – Excel Entertainment.
How does Excel adapt its marketing strategy for films that clearly have different regional demographics? For example, the Fukrey series caters more to a North India market whereas films like Gold and Raees were more pan-India.
I think every market needs to react for a film to be successful. You mentioned that Fukrey did exceedingly well in North India. For Fukrey Returns, a conscious priority was: how can we make this content appealing for the rest of India? In addition, there’s a lot of localisation that happens in terms of the kind of content we create to market the films. For example, there is a separate strategy for the Mumbai and Maharashtra belt. For Fukrey Returns, we made sure that we came up with unique properties such as creating commercials to promote a film which were purely focused on clutter-breaking strategies, non-skippable ads and so on. In all of these, the dialect was irrelevant; it was just humour that was relatable. Customising your content strategy to make it relatable for a far bigger audience is something that we focus on. We don’t ignore any market and we don’t rely on one market.
Are there any other factors that come into play?
It also depends on the type of audience that’s coming to watch a film. Gold was labelled as a multiplex driven film; we had to consider how to attract a single screen audience. Meanwhile, Raees was more focused towards single screens. There is a primary audience who you have to be true to, but then you have to find hooks in a film that could appeal to a wider audience. For example, with Gold, the whole angle was that while India has won many gold medals, what is so special about this gold medal? How do you create that feeling of passion or national pride that will drive people to the theatre? We used the national anthem in a very smart way where we had the British anthem playing in the theatre. That got people’s attention and the message went viral.
With digital you can really customise messaging. Further, when it comes to spending money to promote your trailers, it’s important to customise it regionally. It’s a mix of content creation, collaboration and dissemination of the content which has to be done tactfully.
How does Excel allocate its marketing budgets between digital mediums and traditional offline marketing mediums? Has the percentage of allocation to the former (digital) increased in recent years?
I think digital is something that can’t be ignored in today’s day and age. Fukrey Returns was a classic case study for us in terms of exploiting digital in a big way. Obviously, you have to factor in certain budgets for the project but digital as a medium is something that everyone has access to now. Today most content is viewed on mobile phones and it’s important to recognise that when devising a marketing strategy.
Overall, budgets have increased, but I personally believe that the quality of the content matters more than marketing budgets. People react to content as an instinct. If the content is appealing, then everything else is just periphery to reinstate it. Getting the right audience in theatres is totally achievable through the digital medium. Marketing budgets are decided on the kind of content pieces you are able to create to drive people to the cinema.
So it’s not as much blind spending as curating good content.
Yes, and there are a lot of ways your content can reach people. Every film is different in that sense. There are so many examples where people are spending massive amounts of money on traditional media and nothing really happens. If your content isn’t engaging, then it’s not going to get you anywhere. There are a lot of other factors to consider. For example, are you coming in at a time where there is a lot of other films releasing? If there are hardly any releases during the weeks when your film comes out, then you can alter your budget accordingly. If you have a lot of brand support because your content is engaging, then you can cut down your spending as well.
Excel has forayed into the digital content space with the extremely well received Inside Edge. How did the step into digital content come about and what are the next steps?
We do have a big slate, actually. We have a separate division that’s purely focusing on creating digital content for OTT platforms, including on our YouTube channel for short format content. Inside Edge did phenomenally well. It has been nominated for the 2018 International Emmy Awards. We have another show called Mirzapur that’s coming out on Amazon Prime later in November. We recognize that cable TV will eventually be substituted by digital, so that’s our main focus.
Do the principles of marketing change for a big film release as opposed to a digital release? How?
The only major difference in digital is that there is no box office pressure. It needs to sustain over a period of time. The marketing efforts don’t end a week after release and there is a separate strategy to get people to keep watching. Amazon plays a big role in that because they use their network really well to push content. The major difference is the post effect. It’s not a 3-day weekend game. It’s sustained progression and there is constant work, but without the added box office pressure.
What innovations in marketing and distribution do you see in the years to come?
It will depend on how smartly tech will be expended. If someone can bridge the gap or make tech relevant, there can be a lot of innovation. When you talk about AI and VR, I don’t think we are there yet. For any marketer who’s dealing with a mainstream product, reaching out to masses is crucial. I think it’s always about reinventing the wheel and thinking of disruptive ways to send your message out to people. Whatever tech is available 2-3 years down the line needs to be used smartly. I can’t comment on what will be the new tech because in digital, things change so rapidly you can’t predict what’s going to happen next.
What’s the one film campaign that you’ve run that will always be close to your heart?
There are quite a few. Baar Baar Dekho was amazing. What I find exciting is when you do things that suddenly become a trend. For example, the way Kala Chashma was promoted. After it went viral, people started doing challenges and posting user generated content. When it came to Gold, the activation I spoke about earlier – drove people to the cinemas. I personally feel the campaign for Fukrey Returns utilized digital really well which opened doors to a lot of content creators and marketers to explore. That year a lot of content driven films were not opening well at the box office, therefore it was good see our films perform well.
What steps does Excel take to protect its copyright?
All our scripts are registered with the copyright authority. In terms of characters, I don’t think there’s any law where you can actually copyright them but all our scripts are registered.
Vishal Ramchandani is the Head of Marketing at Excel Entertainment. He has marketed and created ancillary content for over 40 films in the last decade. Over time he has developed a knack of promoting content through disruptive modes of communication. A film and marketing enthusiast, he is also the co-founder of two startups – Flickbay and Film Tent